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Authors: Jack McDevitt

Moonfall (38 page)

BOOK: Moonfall
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She cried out. The water roared. It was at her shoulders now and she was off her feet.

It stank of oil and dead fish and rotted wood. She kicked out of her shoes. Where was Larry? Didn’t he even notice for God’s sake she was missing?

The flood was coming in so fast now that she couldn’t make any headway against it. She found the elevator doors again.

Something bumped her head.

The ceiling.

Somewhere above she heard shouts. Someone calling her name.

She opened her mouth to respond but it filled with water. Then, behind her, she saw light.

It was the stairway. Someone was in the stairway
.

“Help!” she cried.

“Over here!” It was Larry!

The stairs had become a waterfall. She pushed toward it, fighting the current, fighting her own exhaustion.

He appeared, carrying a flashlight, hanging on to the handrail. He leaned out and reached for her, caught her.
“What are you doing down here?” he cried.

Under the circumstances it was an incredible question. “Drowning,” she said, knowing he couldn’t hear her. But he held tight.

Louise found a robe for her and offered her a bedroom. But she was hyper after the experience, despite being cold and bone-weary, and couldn’t sleep.

They were alone in the bedroom. Louise had found some extra clothes for Larry too, a size-too large, but that hardly mattered. He seemed as shaken by the experience as she, and that perception brought a glow she hadn’t known for a long time.

“I thought I was going to lose you.” He lay beside her, his features shrouded in shadow. An illuminated clock threw off the only light in the room.

She sank back into the pillows. “It all happened so quickly.” She’d been crying and he kept trying to tell her everything was okay, that they were safe now. She hadn’t been able to explain about the people on the sidewalk, about the boy and his mother, and every time she tried the tears came again.

“I love you,” he said. “I didn’t know I was married to a hero.”

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t spoken the words in a long time. He told her religiously, faithfully, every day that he loved her. Much as he always commented that dinner was good. It was a courtesy, extended reflexively. But not this time. His voice sounded strange.

“I love you too, Larry,” she said, feeling tides of emotion and remembering that less than an hour before she’d been contemplating the advantages of trading him for Marv.

His free hand insinuated itself into the robe. But she pushed it away and he looked hurt.

“Marilyn,” he said again, bewildered, “
It’s all right
.”

But she was peering through the dark, looking again at the boy, into his accusing eyes. They’d been hazel, she thought. And she knew she’d be seeing them for the rest of her life.

5.

Micro Flight Deck. Sunday, April 14, 2:10
A.M.

“How about the g-suit?”

The
g
stood for gravity, and the suit was a kind of underwear worn inside the pressure suit. It was designed to keep blood from pooling in the extremities under high g-forces. They had only the one Saber had been wearing, now hung in a storage locker. Tony opened the locker and measured himself against the leggings. The suit was several inches too long. “I think I can manage without,” he grinned. “Anyway, I’ll be out and back in a few minutes.”

The air in the cabin had become oppressive at about midnight, and Saber had distributed masks and air tanks. They switched to a second round of tanks just after two o’clock. By then the radar screen was quiet, and Tony decided it would be reasonably safe to venture outside.

He climbed into the p-suit (it too was a bit large), descended to the passenger cabin, and assured everyone there was nothing to worry about. Then he put on the helmet, did a radio check, stepped into the airlock, and closed the inner hatch behind him.

“Tony?”

“Go ahead, Saber.”

“We’ve got a couple of pings on the screen.”

“Anything to worry about?”

“Negative. But the neighborhood’s not clear.”

That was, of course, the danger: If something came at them she’d have to start the engine to evade. It wouldn’t be a happy situation with him on the outside. “Okay. Let’s get it over with, babe.”

The outer hatch opened. He clipped a tether to his belt. The tether would unwind as Tony moved, and it was long enough to allow him to get inside the cargo deck. He snapped
the torch onto his wrist, turned it on, reported himself ready to go, and stepped outside. The hatch closed behind him.

The hull was pocked, chipped, and scorched. He surveyed it and shook his head. “We’re a little beat up out here,” he told Saber.

The C deck airlock was out of sight below the curve of the hull. He pushed off, moved quickly down the face of the bus, aided by strategically placed handgrips. “Down” was the direction of the nozzle, and of the Moon-cloud, which came into view as he neared the cargo deck hatch. He could see the damaged tread floating off its mount like a broken leg. The entire lower section of the Micro had been battered, both by debris and apparently by the broken tread, which might easily strike the vehicle during sudden turns. He’d need to come back and get rid of it.

The hatch itself was bent; nearby, there was a baseball-sized eruption in the hull. A rock had gone in the other side and come out
here
. The metal was seared. Lights were still on inside. “I can see in,” he told Saber.

“Do you see Bigfoot?”

“No. But there’s something reflective.”

“What?”

“It’s a plastic bag.”

“Oh,” said Saber. “He brought a lot of stuff on board in plastic bags.”

The bag drifted out of his line of sight, and then he could see only the far bulkhead. “Okay,” he said, directing his torch toward the airlock, “time to get to work.” He had just started for the hatch when something whispered against his faceplate. It might have been a handful of sand.

“Something just happen?” asked Saber.

“Negative,” he said.

“Okay. Try to get inside as quickly as you can.”

“Working on it.” He reached the hatch control panel,
opened it, and twisted the key. A white lamp blinked on. Good. At least he had power.

He punched the
ACTIVATE
button and the status display lit up.
DEPRESSURIZING
, it said. The lamp went to red.

His suit registered a vibration. “More rocks?” he asked.

“Never saw it coming, Tony. Under the radar.” The unit just didn’t pick up pebbles. “Are you almost in?”

He was watching the display and the hatch. “I’ll be inside in a minute.”

“Roger.”

He was thinking about Bigfoot. They’d never socialized, never spent time together, never even talked much, really. Just to say hello. There was a tendency among the operational types to spend time with their own kind. Tony fraternized with the pilots, and he assumed Bigfoot would have spent his time with flight operations personnel. Or with the managers. Probably the managers. He wondered what he’d been doing when the rock came through the bulkhead, what he’d been thinking. Tony hoped it had been a quick death. But there must have been a few moments….

The status display was still red.

His suit display had no timekeeping mechanism, but the process seemed to be taking a long time.

“Tony?”

“Yo.”

“Can you hurry it along?”

“Still recycling.”

The red lamp finally went out, and the legend in the display changed:
DEPRESSURIZATION COMPLETE
.

He shifted his position, hanging on to the grip with his right hand, ready to slip into the airlock as soon as it opened.

But it stayed shut.

“Saber, I don’t think this thing’s going to work.”

“It has to open.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” He switched to manual, took out the handle, turned it, and pulled.

Nothing.

He shifted his position and tried again. This time he felt something give. “Okay,” he said. “Progress that time.” He had a little space now between the edge of the hatch and its seating. He pulled the bar out of his belt and worked it into the space and began to lever it back and forth.

“Tony, you need to hurry. We’ve got stuff coming up on the screen.”

“I hear you.” He pulled hard.

“Maybe you should come back. Try again later.”

He couldn’t get good purchase, and when he pushed at the hatch it pushed back. The problem, he decided, was that he was trying to do the job while hanging on to the grip. So he let go, braced both feet on the hull, wrapped both hands around the bar, and pulled. It moved some more.

“It’s coming now,” he told her.

“Running out of time, Tony.”

He set himself and tried again but the bar slipped and he floated away. “Uh-oh,” he said.


Uh-oh?
What’s
uh-oh?

“I’m adrift.”

“Tony? I’ve got to move.”

“Go ahead.” He shoved the bar into his belt. “I’ll be okay.”

The engine lit and the bus leaped away. Tony plummeted backward until the tether caught and dragged him. It was short enough to prevent his getting fried by the main engine. But he crashed hard into the hull and jammed a wrist.

“You still there?” Her voice, worried, in his earphones.

“Yeah.” He had to struggle to get the response out, and it occurred to him that he had the only suit. If he got in trouble out here, there was no way anyone could come after him.

“More coming in, Tony,” Saber said. “We have to get clear.”

“Okay. I’m fine.”

Something splashed across his visor.

Liquid. He tried to wipe it away. But nothing happened, and in the strange light his arm didn’t look right.

The liquid was coming out of his sleeve and he couldn’t see his left hand.

Couldn’t
feel
his left hand.

Darkness welled up around the edges of his vision. There was pressure in the sleeve. The suit was sealing.

But the light was slipping away.

Micro Passenger Cabin. 2:31
A.M.

Charlie was well along on his second oxygen tank. There were only a couple more available, which meant, unless they restored life support, they would begin to have problems around four o’clock.

It was impossible to see what was happening from the windows of the passenger cabin. Tony had gone down below the curve of the hull, and they’d heard the banging while he worked on the hatch. Charlie wanted to ask Saber how the operation was going, but he was reluctant to distract her. He’d learned the hard way that ordinary people can ask questions or make complaints and nobody thinks much of it. But a person with political standing becomes a jerk very quickly. So he waited, trading anxious glances with Evelyn, who was also trying to stay out of the way.

Morley sat gloomily, his hands pressed against his oxygen mask. He looked defeated, a sharp contrast to his positive and energetic on-air personality. The chaplain had been trying to adopt a fatalistic attitude to insulate himself against emotional rushes. “Not much we can do except ride it out,” he’d say, or, “We’re in the hands of the Lord.”

They certainly were.

Charlie had been surprised when Saber warned them that
more turbulence was coming.
Turbulence
was a funny name for the rocks he watched whistle past his window. When she’d started the engine and rolled to one side, he’d concluded that Tony must have gotten inside.

But now the engine was quiet again. There was no sound belowdecks, and the Micro rode through an ominous silence.

Evelyn tried to radiate confidence. “It’s okay,” she said. “They know what they’re doing.”

Might not make any difference, Charlie thought.

The PA system clicked on, but no one spoke. Evelyn glanced at him again. The delay drew out until Charlie knew it could only be bad news.

The chaplain was peering through his window. “Houston, Houston,” said Morley softly, “we have a problem.”

The chaplain caught his breath. “Outside,” he whispered.

They were dragging Tony at the end of his line. He looked deflated. Inanimate. He was spinning slowly, hands over feet.

As the angle changed, and the illumination from the ship’s outboard lamps crept over him, Charlie saw that
Tony’s left hand was missing
. At first he thought it was a trick of the light. But it wasn’t.

Charlie Haskell wasn’t yet old enough to have confronted, before this week, the imminent possibility of personal death. He assumed there’d always be a tomorrow. Now he looked out at Tony Casaway, he thought about Bigfoot in his airless compartment, and he shivered. Casaway had come back for them. Bigfoot had stayed behind to give them a chance.

Charlie was not a believer. He did not expect to be called to account and assigned a score for what he had done or left undone. His parents had believed in a mechanical world, a place of evolving hardware and software, no deities need apply. We just haven’t figured it all out yet, his father was fond of saying. Things get more complex and we don’t know why. But that doesn’t mean we have to ascribe it to divine providence.

Charlie had endured a brief flirtation with Lutherans, as a result of joining a church basketball team. He’d been glad to escape. Later, when he entered politics, he’d been advised to pick a church. Any church. And just show up once in a while. He’d taken the advice and picked several. He could never take them seriously, but he discovered that they became more significant to his success as he moved higher in public office.

In Charlie’s view, the bottom line was that if he died out here, it was all over. He envied Mark Pinnacle, who could face the worst dangers with relative equanimity because he believed that Paradise waited beyond the gate. He had only to explain to himself why Jesus had sent the comet. No big deal for a Christian.

For a realist like himself, life was a more complex game, in which one occasionally got run down by the software. Nothing personal.

“I have to tell you,” Saber’s voice said, breaking through his reverie, “that Captain Casaway is dead. I monitor no life signs from his suit.” Her voice trembled.

BOOK: Moonfall
12.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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